Aristocracy vs. Tyranny

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Aretae recently commented that Moldbug’s primary thrust is identical to that of Plato’s Republic — aristocracy is better than democracy, which is better than tyranny:

My concern, and the concern of an awful lot of thinkers since Plato, is that the distinction between aristocracy and tyranny seems to be a very thin distinction, and not something you can predict beforehand. Indeed, while rule of a philosopher-king tends to produce superior results to a democracy, rule by a tyrant is much worse for human happiness.

I think the primary thrust of Moldbug’s thinking is slightly different though:

I would say that the primary thrust of Moldbug’s thinking is that libertarianism will always fail, because power abhors a vacuum. What you need is a way to align the State’s goals with the People’s goals, so it doesn’t abuse its power, and giving the State outright ownership of tax revenues does that.

Taking people’s money isn’t necessarily corruption, and a stationary bandit doesn’t have an incentive to pillage and loot; he wants to skim as much as possible, yes, but he wants to skim it as efficiently as possible, too, with a long time horizon.

A monarchy manages to fit that description. The king may not be a philosopher-king, but he has every incentive to do what’s best for his country, because it’s best for him and, by extension, his heirs.

What’s interesting — that Moldbug has merely hinted at — is that the era he most admires is when the throne still held much power, but economists had convinced it and Parliament to liberalize trade. This counter-intuitive example of wu wei (or laissez-faire) helped make Britain rich — by not trying so hard.

And the government was much, much smaller then, before it democratized.

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